February 17, 2019 3 min read
Wales is famous for its Welsh wool industry, its blankets and throws, including the iconic Welsh tapestry blankets and they are showcased at the National Wool Museum of Wales, in Drefach Felindre, Carmarthenshire. The Museum is located in the Teifi Valley in the former Cambrian Mills and the museum and the town of Drefach Felindre is a National Heritage Site. It is part of the National Museum for Wales.
Welsh wool and the Welsh woollen manufacturing industry was historically one of the most important industries in Wales. From ‘o Fôn i Fynwy’, literally from Anglesey to Monmouth or from one end of North to the other end of South Wales, the Welsh wool industry spread to all parts of Wales. However it was in the Teifi valley and surrounding areas of Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire that the wool industry was at its most prolific during the latter parts of the 19th and 20th century.
For a few hundred years, the Teifi valley was the centre of a thriving woollen industry with dozens of woollen mills in the area and maybe over twenty in neighbouring Pembrokeshire. Today, only a few of these mills are still producing traditionally woven Welsh wool blankets and throws using age old looms together with the skills and methods of yesteryear.
Today traditionally woven Welsh wool blankets and throws are very popular not only in the UK but also across the world and are supported by national and international campaigns such as the Campaign for Wool. Sustainability has become an important issue for consumers and wool is the natural source of sustainable materials. Each year, sheep produce a new fleece making yarn a 100% renewable fibre source. Wool is a 100% natural fibre and has evolved to become one of the most effective natural forms of all-weather protection known to man.
We’ve all seen a wool fleece but they are usually on the back of a live sheep walking around the fields! So how does a wet and maybe dirty fleece get to a cosy, warm, clean fabric suitable for us at FelinFach to make Welsh blankets, throws and cushions.
Firstly usually before the summer months, sheep shearing is the process of cutting off the fleece from the sheep. The fleeces of sheep can look very different and this leads to the various fleeces being used for different products. Some fleeces are coarse and these are suitable for carpet making whereas finer wool is used for clothing and the types of products we make at FelinFach. The finest wool is called merino wool. The diameter and the crimp of the fleece determine the use of wool. The crimp is the waviness of the fibre and is different from breed to breed. With merino wool, it’s very fine but the crimp in crossbred wool is several millimetres long.
Having sheared the sheep and sorted the fleeces, the wool is now cleaned, or scoured. The wool that comes straight from a sheep is often greasy and can contain high levels of valuable lanolin as well as dirt, dead skin, sweat residue, pesticide, and vegetable matter. Scouring may be as simple as a bath in warm water, or as complicated as an industrial process using detergents. It is rumoured that until the 1930’s, some of the larger mills in Wales scoured the wool by immersing the raw wool in a solution consisting of one part human urine, one part water! This process no longer continues!
Carding and Spinning
Carding is a set of processes that converts a tangled mass of scoured wool into fully disentangled, soft rolls of wool for spinning into yarn. Originally done by hand, a carding engine was invented in the 18th century. Spinning pulls and twists the fibres together to form a continuous thread, turning the soft rolls into strong woollen yarn, originally by using a portable spindle and whorl.
Warping and Weaving
Warping by hand is a complicated process with all the threads for the warp of a piece of cloth placed in the correct order and colour sequence, before weaving. Weaving turns the yarn into cloth, which is made of two sets of threads. The warp thread sit side by side, and the weft threads are woven under and over the warp.
The National Wool Museum of Wales continues to showcase the Welsh Wool industry and in particular the iconic Welsh tapestry blankets. The Museum is located in the town of Drefach Felindre, Carmarthenshire and is definitely worth a visit if you're in the area.
More Wool blogs